“Expungement also applies to arrests where you haven't been convicted of any crime,” said Hudson County Assistant Prosecutor Leo Hernandez, speaking at a recent seminar held in Union City about expunging criminal records.
“It also applies to acquittals, dismissals—it's really important to know what your rights are under the law, in order to obtain expungement, because it could have a practical effect on your life,” he said to a crowd of a few people.
The County Prosecutor's Office held the seminar at Union City’s William Musto Cultural Center July 20.
The information served to educate the public on which types of charges can and cannot be removed from records. In many instances, a criminal record can be an impediment to acquiring housing or employment. Therefore, expungement can help certain individuals achieve a second chance.
Not every crime can be expunged in New Jersey. Those include DWI/DUI, criminal homicide, kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, endangering a child's welfare, and robbery.
Also, the expungements discussed at the seminar only applied to cases in New Jersey.
“Many people who do have a criminal record, legally, they can have their criminal record expunged.” – Carol Lamparello
“Many people who do have a criminal record, legally, they can have their criminal record expunged,” said Carol Lamparello, a chief of staff for the HCPO. “That means that they can have their records totally wiped clean. In doing so, they can be able to get a job and they don't have to tell on the application that they had a record.”
According to the speakers, the expungement process is a multi-layered process that first involves locating your records.
Applicants who were fingerprinted when arrested must start with the New Jersey State Police. Contact Sagem Morpho, a private company the State Police uses for fingerprinting. Appointments with Morpho can be scheduled at bioapplicant.com/nj, or by calling 1-877-503-5981. Applicants who were not fingerprinted upon arrest must check with the police jurisdiction where their arrest occurred. Applicants also must fill out an extensive petition for expungement, available at http://www.nj.gov/corrections/pdf/OTS/FRARA/ParoleHandbook/10557_expunge_kit-11-2012.pdf.
For more information on expungement in general, visit https://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/.
Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill in 2014 requiring companies to wait until after interviewing potential employees to ask if they have any criminal records. The bill is known as “Ban the Box” legislation, because many job applications have a checkbox asking about an applicant's criminal background.
Some of Union City’s residents are undocumented and may not understand certain laws or rights because of language barriers. As a result, Hernandez gave the seminar in Spanish before holding it in English.
“There are a lot of foreigners and Hispanic people in town who may not know what their rights are,” said Union City Commissioner Tilo Rivas, who attended the seminar. “This type of seminar guides them to what they can do. They don't know if they can expunge their cases. They don't know how to proceed, how to look for a solution.”
But expunging one's record before attaining citizenship status may not be the best route, according to North Bergen-based immigration attorney Ingrid Echeverria.
“There are a lot of people here who have no legal status, and sometimes, if they have committed some type of crime, the first thing that they do is they do the expungement, and they shouldn't do that,” Echeverria said. “The first thing they should do is obtain their legal status and then do the expungement. The expungement doesn't work for immigration purposes.” In other words, officials screening undocumented immigrants seeking citizenship can still see their convictions, even if they've already gone through the expungement process. For more information on upcoming seminars, call the HCPO at 201-795-6400.
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